Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Love Is Not Detrimental

I recently kicked off a bit of controversy by publicly disagreeing with a meme which was ostensibly about loving unconditionally. The meme actually went beyond that concept - dangerously so, in my opinion, which is why I disagreed - but memes are not exactly known for handling complex ideas in a complex fashion. That is certainly one of the shortcomings of this particular form of internet communication. In this case, while I suspect that the original writer was intending to make a fairly straightforward comment about unconditional love, the method of doing so missed the mark, and could potentially cause harm in doing so. The number of popular Facebook groups I’ve seen sharing the same meme just adds to that possibility. I’ll include the meme below, just so you can make your own determination, but I want to explain my thinking first.

That there is a need to explain the thinking is, to me, the first problem with this entire discussion. I believe that people who are making large public statements have a responsibility to be careful and clear about the statements being made. This meme was anything but careful and clear. It took what began as a simple statement - Don’t do a certain activity for the wrong people - and expanded in directions that didn’t really line up. Much of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the new version didn’t actually answer the original. It tried to make a simple statement complex and, in doing so, failed at both. The new version lost the clear punch of a simple statement without actually explaining the more complicated idea and how it related to the original statement.

Here is the meme being addressed:

Here is my answer:

“As someone who writes about living and loving on a regular basis, no. This is a recipe for failure. You literally can't cross oceans unconditionally. It's not possible, and you are destroying lives by telling people it's what they should be doing. Live and love without seeking reward, yes, but you have to set boundaries or you are not loving yourself.”

I was told, “You’re missing the point. You should love without expecting anything in return.” Aside from the fact that I made that same point myself, so really couldn’t have missed it, that’s not what the meme is saying. More specifically, that is not all that the meme is saying. Had that been it, there would have been no controversy. There likely wouldn’t have been many answers either. Quite a few people would have clicked the Like button, and quite a few more would have shared the image, but it wouldn’t have generated much discussion because most of the intended audience would have just agreed. That’s part of the problem, of course. You don’t get much Internet traffic by saying things everyone agrees with. You have to stir things up or you don’t get noticed.

The original statement was, in a nutshell, don’t do everything for people who won’t do anything. The follow-up statement was, again in paraphrase, love without expecting anything in return. Both of these statements are right and proper, true and correct. They only become wrong when you try to put them together. They don’t go together. They aren’t answering the same thing. Love unconditionally does not mean do everything unconditionally. Being a parent, when done correctly, is the epitome of loving unconditionally, but one of the most important lessons you learn when trying to correctly be a parent is that you can’t do everything for the ones you love. To keep with this particular meme, you can’t cross every ocean for your children. Sometimes the best way to love them is to not cross that ocean. It’s a difficult lesson to learn, and even more difficult to put into practice, but it is necessary for the wellbeing of both the lover and the loved.

Life is about crossing oceans, but you can’t cross every ocean for every person. In this life, you are a finite being with finite resources. As much as we might like to be able to give everything to everyone all of the time, it’s simply and literally not possible. Attempting to do so will only result in losing the ability to do anything for anyone anywhere. Worse, setting this up as the ideal is a recipe for failure. You are setting a goal that people cannot reach, and telling people right up front that they can never be good enough.

Love is not detrimental. Love is about building up, not tearing down. If you give out love and don’t end up with more, there’s a good chance that you’re doing it wrong. You won’t necessarily get back more from the direction you give it - that is not and should not be the point - but real love will not leave you wanting. One of the biggest problems we have in the world today is this fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of love. This problem is not made better by groups who have set themselves up as sources of motivation and inspiration but then turn around and perpetuate ideas that cause harm. Love is not easy, but love is not detrimental.

Love unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean that you have to act unconditionally. Sometimes the best way to love someone is to say no, to not cross that ocean. You have to set boundaries or you’re not really loving yourself. That is necessary too, in case you forgot. While you’re running around showering people with unconditional love, don’t forget to love yourself. You’re important too.

"Don't cross oceans for people who wouldn't cross a puddle for you," does not mean "don't love without thinking of reward." It means know your limits and understand that you can't do everything for everyone. Please stop setting people up for failure by telling them they should be doing something they literally cannot do. Cross every ocean that is right for you to cross, but don't believe that you are failing in any way if you can't cross them all. Cool words in a meme are just cool words in a meme if we don't take the time to think about what they mean.

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